Living with Imperfection
December 27, 1998 Psalm 20 & 21
Regarding the importance of history, you have heard it said that, “We need to know where we have been if we want to know where we are going.” I’ve said it many times myself. This acknowledgement may be important as we chart the unknown waters of the New Year. The idea is that history charts where we have come from, and if we don’t want to make the same mistakes twice, or many times, we must pay heed to the lessons of the past. Indeed, there is ‘nothing new under the sun’. Our best intuition tells us that the times ahead are perilous. It may be that the lessons(?) of history haunt us more that they help us. So often we realize that the sins of man just recycle in varying forms. They have more technological sophistication but the same root problem. It may be that the place we are going is the same place we have been.
But before you lose hope, let me tell you another statement that, “We don’t need to know where we are going if we are going with God.” You know what the Bible says, “That the righteous shall live by faith.” We believe that God has a plan in the world and that it is progressing toward completion no matter how slow it seems to our time-bound mentality, or how repetitious the world’s problems seem to get. We also believe that we, as believers, have a personal part in God’s plan. Even though many feel that they themselves are hopelessly bound in the same old besetting problems, it is eminently true that if you are walking with God and continually seeking him, that you, as well as his plan for the world, are indeed progressing beyond what you may consciously feel or understand.
Another statement that haunts us is that, “Our true character comes out in our unguarded moments.” Has your true character been displayed lately? Have you been proud of it? Have there been a few of those unguarded moments where you have disappointed yourself – or others? Do those moments make us wonder if our true character has made any progress on the scale of redemption? Is there a line across which our true character resides, or is life more of a matter of process? I believe it is process, and especially so if you know and walk with Christ. We should ask ourselves where we would be or what we would be like today if we had not known Christ. Even if you experience personal problems that haunt you in those unguarded moments, they are perhaps not as bad as they could be. You see, those unguarded moments are, if you are in Christ, not your true character but remnants of your past without the character of Christ. Those unguarded moments are when you inadvertently forget him. But your true character is he himself who lives in you.
The Bible says that, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” Our heart does remind us sometimes of where we have come from. It comes out in unguarded moments and we are ashamed. But when we concentrate on Christ, it is then that our true character shines. It is because we are then consciously in him, and he shines all over the place. I want this message to give us hope as we continue to struggle with our own imperfections and the imperfections of those around us. They will consume us if we let them. We must see ourselves and each other as Christ sees us, and them. This is not an excuse for those unguarded moments, but a challenge to continually be on guard against those moments in the real hope that Christ enables us to continually overcome by coming over to him. And as long as we are still alive, we are still learning.
We will not reach perfection in this life, but we can keep walking toward it. Christ told us to do this when he said, “You must be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” He meant, of course, that perfection is in him by faith. And as long as we are walking in that direction that began with faith in his righteousness, that is how God sees us. God sees the end result. In the mean time, we must not become discouraged about living with imperfection as he lovingly submits it to his grace. If you have faced irreverence and injustice in the imperfect relationships people have with you and each other, and you with them, remember that you can trust God for the greater outcome. It is in the slow process of living with imperfection that imperfection is overcome. Slow cookers make the tenderest meals – the kind that melt in your mouth and satisfy your hunger. We can live with imperfection because we have the hope of perfection.
At Christmastime we remember the greatest gift of all in God’s gift of love to the world through Christ. In struggling to describe the essence of this gift, we must realize that essentially it is that God gave the world an object of faith. Christ is the object of our faith. He is the one in whom we can visualize God and thereby have faith in God. Sure there was faith in God before Christ. It was a faith that he would come. But now that he has come, our faith is realized. Our faith is easier. The world has seen God. God is real. God is alive. God is eternal. And God is love. God gave us the gift of faith, but we must receive it in order to have it. And once we have it, it transforms us.
We have been talking about spiritual gifts in our Sunday evening sessions over the last two months. God has given us passions, talents, personalities and personal style. Even non-believers accomplish great and mighty things in the flesh – even though they won’t last. But God transforms believers with spiritual gifts. He takes what is ordinary and through our faith in Christ gives it a divine anointing. He takes the same old person and puts a bit of God inside that can accomplish things that the old person never dreamed of, and in a way that we never dreamed of. But we must apply ourselves to the tasks and opportunities he gives us in order to discover this. Just as God’s gift of faith in Jesus eternally transforms our lives, he also transforms whatever we return to him by that same faith. He transforms our fleshly personality into godly accomplishment. He transforms whatever we undertake by faith for him. What was once ordinary is now divine. Imperfection begins to fade as we advance in the knowledge and practice of his spiritual gifts – like faith. We are on our way as the sons and daughters of God. We can live with the imperfection for now because we are certain of the destination. Inconvenient – yes. Insufferable – no. Inconsequential – hardly. It may well be the personal knowledge and pain of our imperfections that keep us on the journey. It helps to remember this sequence:
Before salvation – not able not to sin.
After salvation – able not to sin.
After glorification – not able to sin.
We are on a journey that takes us from the clutch of death and will deliver us to the embrace of glory. If we don’t get it all at once, maybe it is because we couldn’t handle it. Dead people don’t know how to handle life. It takes time to get resuscitated. Then you can start breathing easier, even if you are still coughing up a little water. You’ve been given the gift of life. Even though it hasn’t all come to you yet, you can live with it.
Many visitors to Ireland bring home some of the famous Waterford crystal. It's very expensive. Every piece is perfect. Often a person may buy fine china or crystal at bargain prices if that person is willing to accept an imperfect piece, "a second." But there are no "seconds" in Waterford crystal. If a piece has the slightest imperfection, it is crushed, melted, and made over entirely. The church, however, is completely made up of "seconds." The church is filled with imperfect people who have all been forgiven by the grace of God.
-- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).
Aren’t we glad that God has not chosen to destroy us who are imperfect, but that he has embarked on a program of remanufacture? But we must be quite aware of the danger of complaining, for we all sit dangerously close to the scrap heap. The advancement of our perfection is first noticed in our willingness to be remanufactured and to understand the process of remanufacture.
It is only imperfection that complains of what is imperfect. The more perfect we are, the more gentle and quiet we become toward the defects of others.
François Fénelon (1651–1715)
The privilege of remanufacture is that the piece spends more time with the craftsman and is assured of the craftsman’s love and care about perfection. Would we dare be satisfied with less?
The divine nature is perfection and to be nearest to the divine nature is to be nearest to perfection.
Xenophon (C. 431–C. 352 B.C.)
Put conversely, the knowledge of imperfection is quite necessary to the process of perfection.
The farther a man knows himself to be from perfection, the nearer he is to it!
Gerard Groote (1340–1384)
And what is perfection except loving God enough to let him love us so perfectly as to perfect us? That is his sovereign right and will.
What is Christian perfection? Loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.
John Wesley (1703–1791)
The believer should never be complacently satisfied with imperfection, nor, for that matter, ever think that he has attained the completion of perfection short of God’s time and process.
Christ died to save us "from our sins," not in our sins. It is not a good sign to hear a believer either defending or excusing his sin. Dr. A.J. Gordon said:
We gravely fear that many Christians make the
Apostle's word, "If we say that we have no sin, we
deceive ourselves," the unconscious justification for
a low standard of Christian living. It were almost
better for one to overstate the possibilities of
sanctification in his eager grasp after holiness, than
to understate them in his complacent satisfaction with
a traditional unholiness.... If we regard the doctrine
of sinless perfection as a heresy, we regard
contentment with sinful imperfection as a greater
We orthodox believers are prone to ignore John's pointed word to us: "These things write I unto you, that ye sin not." God wants a cleansed and righteous people. A sincere believer must want to be rid of all sin for all coming time.
And how true the word that "if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus Christ His son cleanses us from all sin."
Even though we are as yet not complete in our perfection, we have confidence that the work of God is not wasted.
For years I never felt I measured up to all I thought the Lord wanted me to be, or all I thought I should be. Satan convinced me that since I wasn't "perfect," I had no right to minister to others. Then one day, my children brought me a bouquet of flowers they had picked. I hugged each child with joy. As I tried to arrange the flowers in a vase, I discovered my children had picked no stems, just blossoms. I laughed--I had been blessed with their gift of love, however imperfect. It was then I realized we don't have to be perfect to be a blessing. We are asked only to be real, trusting in Christ's perfection to cover our imperfection.
Gigi Graham Tchividjian, "Heart to Heart," Today's Christian Woman.
Perhaps you have been wondering if we were going to actually focus upon a passage for this morning’s message. Here it is. It is Psalm 20 and 21. Psalm 20 is a prayer for the king, that he might have victory in battle. Psalm 21 is the response of praise for those victories given. We can take these psalms about a battle of national interest and apply them personally. Is not our desire for perfection a battle within our own hearts – a battle against the flesh? Is not the assurance of perfection’s reality the victory? Is not this all the mighty work of God? Psalm 20 then becomes faith in action through prayer that the battle for perfection might be won. Remember that it is the gift of faith in Christ that transforms us. Prayer is the vehicle for faith in action.
SERIES: THE LYRICS OF LIFE (1-50)
SUBJECT: The Fight of Faith
READING: Psalm 20
I. The Intercession of Faith (20:1-4)
1) Prayer Tranquilizes the Believer for Battle (20:1)
2) Prayer Energizes the Believer for Battle (20:2)
3) Prayer Authorizes the Believer for Battle (20:3)
4) Prayer Strategizes the Believer for Battle (20:4)
II. The Expectation of Faith (20:5)
1) To See the Salvation of God (20:5)
2) To Raise the Standard of God (20:5)
III. The Realization of Faith (20:6)
1) God’s Victory as an Accomplished Fact (20:6)
2) God’s Ministry as an Attendant Force (20:6)
IV. The Affirmation of Faith (20:7)
1) No Confidence in the Flesh (20:7)
2) Full Confidence in the Lord (20:7)
V. The Jubilation of Faith (20:8-9)
1) The Sign of a Defeated Foe (20:8)
2) The Song of a Triumphant King (20:9)
Even as Psalm 20 ends with a cry for salvation (applied in this message as perfection) with the assurance of its attainment, Psalm 21 continues with the praise for what faith has realized. The battle has been won. On the personal level, perfection has been attained by the hand of God in response to faith. The reward is the crown of life, the perfection of God realized through faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
SERIES: THE LYRICS OF LIFE
SUBJECT: The Crown of Life (1-52)
READING: Psalm 21
The battle has been won and the royal poet is caught up in a lyric of coronation and celebration. He speaks of the blessings of goodness, the crown of pure gold, the gift of life, and “length of days for ever and ever” (21:3-4). The scene he depicts is one of glory, honor, majesty and gladness. The crown of life is a symbol of:
I. Life’s Coronation (21:1-7)
1) The Joy of Fulfillment (21:2)
2) The Joy of Enthronement (21:3)
3) The Joy of Bestowment (21:4)
4) The Joy of Enrichment (21:5)
5) The Joy of Appointment (21:6)
6) The Joy of Commitment (21:7)
II. Life’s Celebration (21:8-13)
1) The Totality of God’s Triumph (21:8)
2) The Finality of God’s Triumph (21:9-10)
3) The Reality of God’s Triumph (21:11-12)
Triumph over tribulation and faithfulness unto death are the believer’s portion in this life, but also the opportunity to prove the Savior’s power to perfect us. Let us see to it that we “reign in life by one, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17) now, and so win the crown of life in a day yet to come.
For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17 NIVUS)
Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:10 NIVUS)
This crown of life is the perfection of God in Jesus Christ. Only that which is perfect may come into the presence of God. Won’t you let him perfect you?
When God wants to drill a man and thrill a man and skill a man,
When God wants to mold a man to play the noblest part.
When He yearns with all his heart to create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed, watch His methods, watch His ways!
How He ruthlessly perfects whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him, and with mighty
Blows converts him into trial shapes of clay which only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying and he lifts beseeching hands!
How He bends but never breaks when his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses and with every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him to try His splendor out -
God knows what He’s about.